This from one who has been there lays out the problem:
The insurgency has finite numbers. The Americans, in relation to this skirmish-style of combat, do not. The Americans can be much more brash in their tactics, due to this disparity of numbers, while the insurgency must protect their numbers at all costs. And I will explain to you how they do it.
I’ll just take my old stomping grounds in Baqubah, and create a fictional 10 man terror cell operating in the area to illustrate my point.
Habib has his 9 insurgents, plus himself as the “sheik”. In the immediate vicinity, there are over 1,000 American troops, producing round the clock patrols of the city of Baqubah and the surrounding highways. He cannot hope to do damage to so many soldiers by fighting them directly, so he plans ambushes of small convoys, roadside bombings, and suicide bombings.
His only problem is the fact there are so many Americans watching these areas at such random times that he can’t accomplish much without risk of losing his people.
So here’s what he does…
He targets the poor families with men of fighting age (and with lots of mouths to feed), and he approaches them to gauge interest in the insurgency. If the people reject him, he threatens to kill the family, and fades off to the next target. If the people waiver, or express interest, he will inundate them with propoganda, and eventually make an offer of cash for doing some “small” task. This might be something like wiring a roadside bomb, or firing an RPG at an American convoy. The men of the starving family are eventually swayed to the insurgency through the fear, or the money, the latter being the most common, since there is no work left to be had in Iraq due to our devastation of the country’s infrastructure. In this case, we’ll say they’ve been asked to fire an RPG at an American convoy for 100 US dollars, which is a small fortune to these people.
So a man and his son then take the RPG, and find an area that they feel they have the best chance of success, and they set up there. This is usually a rooftop or an alleyway, and they wait for the convoy. The Americans don’t disappoint. They arrive on their convoy, which is likely a combat presence patrol designed to project force, and deter action in a sector. They choose the vehicle they want to shoot (usually a command vehicle, which is rather stupidly identified from the pack by virtue of having multiple antennae on them for better communications)and fire.
Usually, panic and lack of training account for a missed shot, but on occasion they will hit the mark. The Americans in the convoy then must identify the source of the attack, and engage the threat. In this case, they will dismount, and enter the building chosen by the insurgents for their attack. They will leapfrog through the building, clearing each room until they find the man and the son, and they will engage and kill them.
The family lost two men, and did not earn a dime. The Americans may or may not have taken casualties, but engaged and killed two “insurgents”. The insurgency, however won the day without doing a thing. They protected their numbers, and through the inability of the Americans to discern who or what the threat was or wasn’t, they didn’t even lose a hundred bucks.
That’s how the insurgency works…They use the Iraqi people to fight for them, and so we must hunt and kill them instead of those who oppose us.
It’s a vicious thing, but it has been very successful from their standpoint.
If this is the case, we’re in a hell of a mess, but I guess we knew that already.
(Hat tip to Andrew Sullivan for the link.)